Part 2: Escalation of the War

In 1964, Lyndon Johnson, seeking election to the presidency in his own right, opposed enlarging the U.S. role in Vietnam.  However, in late July and early August of that year, the U.S. Navy was running coastal raids in the area of the Gulf of Tonkin near Vietnam.  As two ships, the Maddox and the Turner Joy, were returning to the gulf, they were fired upon.  Johnson used this incident to pressure the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by J. William Fulbright, a Democrat from Arkansas, to push through the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.  In fine, the resolution gave Johnson Congressional approval to increase American involvement in Vietnam.  As a matter of fact, it was almost a blank check, allowing Johnson a free hand to run the war the way he chose.  Until the resolution was repealed by the Senate over a half dozen years later, the U.S. forces grew in number in Vietnam until they reached a half million troops.  Johnson extended the war from defense of the South to the bombing of north of the 17th parallel in 1965.

The cost of the war from $6 billion in 1966 to a height of $24 billion in 1968 coupled with the evening TV news broadcasts showing daily horror stories caused the public to oppose America's involvement in the war.  Protests took to the streets.  Thousands of young men refused to follow the law of conscription.  Demonstrations grew each month, and national leaders joined in the chorus of opposition.  Johnson's popularity sunk to an all-time low, thus he chose not to seek another term in 1968.  Democratic Senator Eugene McCarthy from Minnesota ran for the presidency.  He lost the nomination of the Democratic Party to Hubert Humphrey, Johnson's vice-president, at the riot-torn national convention in Chicago.  The entrance of Alabama governor, George Wallace, a Democrat running as an independent, gave the eventual 1968 victory to Republican Richard M. Nixon.

Nixon had hoped to end the war soon but no easy solution existed.  His escalation was witnessed in spreading the U.S. effort through secret bombings in Cambodia that began in March, 1969.  More demonstrations resulted in the darkest hour looming over the Kent State University campus in Ohio.  There, National Guardsmen opened fire on demonstrators, killing 4 students and wounding 11, in an attempt to halt a student protest against the war.  America was enraged.  The war had now divided the country.

  • What two U.S. ships were fired upon in the Gulf of Tonkin?
  • Who led the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to pass the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, and what did the resolution give Johnson?
  • How many troops did the U.S. have in Vietnam at the height of the fighting?
  • What Democrat ran for the presidency as an anti-war candidate?
  • What was the domestic result of the escalation of the war?
continue to part 3...